Kanchanaburi

Early start, for me anyway. Eggs and lemongrass tea, and oh my god Fran is already moving into my guesthouse and planning to follow me…..

The minibus to kanchanaburi is rapid, too air-conditioned and a bit bumpy. Only 3 passengers, so lots of space. It’s easy to get a room, and I soon discover there is a long farang stretch of pars and guesthouses. This one ain’t so bad, and I’ll keep the name hidden for the time being. I have the option of a bungalow on stilts on the river but take the cheaper option, online, which is free. Renting a bike is full of issues. They are all knackered in some way and the one I take in the end, going for something with gears rather than the usual rickety basket at the from number. Typically it’s too small and the seat is stuck so can’t be raised….

I cycle up to the fabled ridge over the river Kwai. On the way I look at a Japanese obelisk monument and enter the front yard of the kitschy war museum, a rusty steam locomotive with a car on its roof…for some reason. The bridge is a tourist magnet you can walk over it, and I attempt to cycle over it at night time. It’s kind of creepy and scary so I only get a third of the way over. 200,00 prisons of war and enslaved Asians died building the death railway for the Japanese in world war 2. What I don’t get is how the Thais let this happen on their soil. The weird thing is that now where there was death, disease, beatings, slave labour there are now luxurious floating restaurants. I know time moves on, but it seems totally perverse. I haven’t come her for this, but it’s fascinating. So are the huge allies cemeteries. Next door there is also a rather bizarre Chinese one full of pointy spires and a large outdoor crematorium.

Lunch is at on’s Isaan thai restaurant. A tiny place with 4 tables and where the kitchen is on the street in front of the shop, and On cooks non-stop. The food is terrific. Full of flavour, packed full of diverse and interesting veg; Chinese mushrooms, sweet potato, thai aubergine, to name a few. My green curry and red rice is amazing. The food is so good I return for dinner and have a banana leaf salad and sour large flat noodles with pak choi (perhaps). It is here I share a table with Jo, a professional poker player from Switzerland, a job which is location non-specific and, he says, allows him to live wherever he wants and earn all he needs to exist for a year in a couple of months…he is quite intense and has a curious stare. After a while our conversation has got incredibly deep and we examine the concepts of knowledge, understanding, being…..there were odd moments when it almost felt like I had entered into a scene from a film. Could it be Hitchcock? 2 strangers meet and decide to swap identities. It doesn’t go that far…but it’s true that when you meet someone for the first time you could, if you wanted pretend to be anything you wanted. Who knows if he was telling the truth. He could be some crazy guy on the run from Interpol…..anyway, it was an entertaining lunch.

Afterwards I cycle through the area that all these towns seem to have: a school zone with. 3 or 4 large school complexes, the buildings with an open space on the ground floor level, where kids often congregate politely sitting cross legged reciting something with a teacher. The kids are all smart and somehow noble looking in crisp simple uniforms. Their parents pick some of them up from school on their mopeds. It’s not untypical to see mother plus little son plus little daughter all on the same little bike puttering home. There is a new temple complex being built by the river. It’s very unusual. The central temple is still plain concrete, and the embellishments along the eaves and ridge of the roof are being attached. Some, strangely have been painted already. Dragons. Seems strange to be finishing the decorations before the structure is complete. There are 2 completed smaller temples. They are Chinese pagodas, and round with 2 levels. Garishly painted and with a recording of chanting resonating within.

I cross the river and cycle a few miles to Wat Tham Khao Pun, which is known for its caves. There is a serious of around 15 chambers, some requiring serious stooping to enter. 2 of these are used as temples, ie they contain Buddhas. The most striking and most beautiful thing was the sheer silence. Nobody else there, maybe 20m underground, I sat and listened to silence. Wonderful.

Ayutthya day 3

A late start and a trip to a veggie buffet. Cheap, tasty, and slightly mysterious what I was eating! Then I do some exploring of the local market. The usual covered hall with concrete slab counters wher meat is carved up and fish are laid out. Old women sitting next to their vegetables and bags of spices. I have been to a lot of these and I'm always too late to catch the real bustle. It's half closed now and some of the women are uncomfortably sleeping among the produce. Rats scuttle across the floor. The pavements of the streets outside the market hall are lined with stalls. Key cutters, underwear, lots and pans. A thickset bald older man behind a stall that fixes watches catches my eye. Taking his picture results in avert long chat,him doing most of the talking. It's one of those “conversations” where the other party can talk but not comprehend too well. Anyway I find out he's 70, works every day of the week from 7am and learns English from tv and directing tourists. I'm there for over an hour, and see no other white skins, so I find the latter hard to believe. His English isn't too bad, but his absence of most of his lower front teeth makes pronunciation rather difficult. I buy a strawberry shake pandan cakes and rose apples for lunch back at the guesthouse, then take a snooze.

 

 

I'm hoping the afternoon light at the temple ruins will be nice, and it is. The park is actually very busy with the building of stages and markets, and a son et lumiere rehearsal of some reenactment of the ayutthya a fighting the burmese. I chance upon the backstage preparations where 5 massive white elephants are being dressed for the show.

 

On returning to the soi, low and beyond there is Fran..much sooner than expected or hoped for. I meet her for a drink at gubar later but meanwhile I'm accosted by a jolly bunch of assorted drivers who are rapidly getting through a bottle of (fake!) Johnny walker. They ask me to join them and our conversation is an exchange of the names of our favourite football teams,and an exchange of gestures brought on by the disclosure that the balding one has the nickname of zidane, and that another one likes Liverpool and Suarez. Head butts and bites. We play guess each other's age and are all generously underestimating. The mood changes suddenly when a pretty stern thai lady appears (driving a tuk tuk) with 2 small children. She is the ringleader's wife and proceeds to yell at him to come home instead of staying out drinking. He looks bashful like a scalded kid, but stays at the table, whilst she drives off in a storm. Apparently this is the typical thai marriage. Drunken lazy husband, tough, strong wife who does more than her fair share. I get a little drunk, then take my leave.

 

Fran is full of the usual stories of narrow scrapes, spending too much on things she doesn't want and technology problems. I want to watch the band at the bar opposite. The previous night they were surprisingly good. A group of young Thais all in black playing tight energetic hard metal-funk. As I got ther and bought a beer that I didn't really need, the band finished. Tonight we checked that they hadn't played yet, and asked who they were. The board said spring low, the barman who had made fun of me over last nights poor timing tells us they are called “spring roll”. At least that is his pronunciation, and in spite of my coaching he can't get the “r” and can't hear his mistake, so I get some revenge. Perhaps the sucker punch is how dreadful the band are. I predict a Number of songs that I know they will play. All these bands in thai bars play the same mix of reggae standards and rock cliches. So we get no woman no cry, born to be wild, honky took woman, hey joe…..my god it's painful. A Thai guy who puts his own unusual inflexion on the singing, a white guy who thinks his soloing over loose backing musicians will make this all good…..so glad when it's over! Bedtime.